While visiting a museum on the outskirts of Arica, we met a Japanese couple who were travelling South America, for one (1) year, on their Yamaha....Yamaha 90 that is.
They were a retired couple in their 60s. They had special panniers built, a triple deck luggage pack on the back carrier, a large front basket, not unlike that found on a bicycle and double capacity gas tank giving them 10 liters of capacity and a range of almost 400 kms. I was astounded. I evaluated my 1100 cc brute, weighing in at 525 lbs plus 100 pounds of luggage plus 200 pounds of rider, tipping the scale at 700 lbs.
Their combination was about 200 lbs for the bike plus 100 lbs for the luggage plus 200 lbs for the rider and passenger coming to about 400 lbs. I was simply amazed that the suspension system was up to the load and the pounding. On my bike and other large bikes the weakest link seems to be the suspension. The rear shocks inevitably fail...and yet their tiny 1-1/2" diameter rear shocks and simple front suspension just kept on working and working and working. The motorcycle world could learn a valuable lesson from Yamaha here.
Before I left Chile it was time for a haircut. I waited my turn and then settled into the chair. My wire like mop was overdue. It was at that difficult stage, you might say. First he soaked me down and then sprayed some de-stressing agent on my hair to soften it up. After a vigorous massage it was limp and pliable and he combed it into a fashionable style.
Then armed with scissors and comb only, (the good old fashioned way) he proceeded to make pass after pass over my locks. With the precision of a forensic scientist working a crime scene he carefully measured each strand to ensure it had the correct amount of overlap to provide a perfect layered effect. Time and time again he combed it out and then repeated the entire procedure.
Finally after thirty minutes he combed it out again and I thought I was done. I gripped the arm rests, under the cover of my apron, getting ready to lever myself out of the chair. Before I could make a move he cradled my head in his hands and fluffed everything into chaos again, removing any loose hairs lest they fall upon my shirt after I left. One final comb out and I was done. I bolted for the door! The whole operation cost less than $6.
On the street I cast a backward glance back at the barber shop. In that split second, I walked full tilt into a low slung branch of a tree, who arm was thigh thickness. I staggered for balance and consciousness as the entire Milky Way flashed before my eyes. A goose egg size bump was my just reward.
The exit from Chile and the entry into Peru was simply perfect. These border crossings are always an unknown and I was't sure what to expect. At the first Aduanas office the beautiful Senorita accepted our completed forms and then proceeded to tell us we would need six (6) stamps on the document before we had completed the operation. She then pointed this way and that indicating where we would have to go.
Seeing the confusion in our eyes she smiled pleasantly, rose from her chair and exited the office. Then she pointed out the different buildings we would have to visit. How very congeneal of her...an extra effort she did not have to make.
The next official accepted our paperwork and provided his stamp. Again, he was the most pleasant individual I have ever encountered at any of these Latin border crossings. He welcomed us to Peru, directed us to the copy machine across the street and then waited patiently for us to return. Then he carefully walked us through the process and took it upon himself to obtain the other necessary stamps so we wouldn't have to struggle through the maze. As smooth and pleasant as the entire process was it still took about two hours. There was no mention of a Carnet or any other nonesense.
We moved on into Peru. At Tacna we stopped to get money (Peruvian Soles) and get a bite to eat. On the Plaza de Armas we viewed the Cathedral designed by Gustave Effiel and similarily his fountain.
The shoeshine boys were out in force working the Plaza. I was desperately in need of a shine so I relented, for 1 Sole...about 30 cents. Of course they bid low and then hit you with the EXTRAS after they are done, muttering lowing during the entire process that this layer is extra, this waterproofing agent which is necessary, will cost more and so on.
My shiny boots were no match for my graying leather pants so I directed him to attack the project. Standing in the middle of the mall amidst a growing crowd of onlookers, the shoeshine boy proceeded to polish, shine and seal my garments, working from the cuff of my pants to the...aah...well you know...the top...a very interesting experience I might add, especially under the scrutinizing eye of the discerning public. Amidst the flurry of EXTRAS he laid claim to I put him on a FORCE ACCOUNT RATE based on the amount quoted for the original project. Mr. Business meets...Mr. Business. We parted on good terms. The onlookers watched the whole procedure with interest. With the show over everyone went their way.
We moved on to Ilo, a coastal town. Unknown to ourselves we stopped in front of the City Administration Building. We perused the book looking for hotel options. A finely dressed man walked up and offered his help. He spoke impeccable English, had all of the correct contacts, knew most of the businessmen in town and invited us inside to meet the Mayor. It was getting late and we really needed to find a place to stay and get cleaned up before we took on any new enterprises so we politely excused ourselves and continued our quest.
We parted company and then half an hour later met again, while still searching for a hotel. This was a crazy mixed up town with a combination of one-way streets that made it almost impossible to return to a starting point if you missed a turn. After talking for a half hour he drew me a map and we said goodbye again. Later that evening, while strolling the Plaza after dinner, we met one more time. We talked for over an hour, just like we were old friends. What an incredibly warm introduction to Peru.
Arequipa is historically intact but not original. Most of the original Spanish architecture was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in the 1700s. Still, it offers a pleasant perspective on style and design from that era. The Santa Catalina Monastery is a sure pleaser. One can wander for hours amidst the maze of streets, rooms and tiny courtyards. It is truly a photographers delight. It has survived from the late 1500s and only in the mid 1900s was it opened up to public access. Cloistered nuns still live here but remain secluded in one small corner on the massive complex. The admission fees are a necessary means of generating operating capital at the expense of the isolated life they once led.
Arequipa to Nazca...almost 600 kms. Was it doable? Yes, but you had to be motivated. I wasn┤t. I looked for a distraction and found one only two hours out of Arequipa.
Nestled in the foothills of the Andes was Petroglifos de Toro Muerto, a large area of petroglyphs heretofore unassigned to any culture. Dating from the time of the Wari, about 800 AD, some of these are finely executed. The sunbaked mountain side sweltered in the 35C heat. It was impossible to stagger amongst the boulders, slog through the sand and seek out all of the art work. Over two thousand petroglyphs exist in this one area alone. Two hours of labour left me exhausted and dehydrated. I retreated to town to recharge on fresh Trucha Frita and a liter of coke.
The afternoon was waning fast and it was time to select a room for the night. We had been in Arequipa for two nights so it was time to camp. As the sun set over the Pacific a deserted road beckoned and wended its way to an overlook to the Pacific beyond. A solitary fisherman drew his nets in the water below us. We met him later. He was seventy-seven and was still plying his trade from sunrise to beyond sunset. He was bare-foot as he trudged the trail from the sea to where we were. His well worn and patched clothing advertised his humble roots. He was totally happy and contented with his lot. He had found God and shared, with us, a few scriptures he had committed to memory.
Standing no more than 5 ft 5 inches, his barrel chest belied his life of labour handling fishing nets. His dark, creased face spoke of long days in the sun. As he stood there he looked the quintessential part of Anthony Quinn in "Shoes of the Fisherman". His features, his dress, his mannerisms were identical...it was uncanny.
The Atacama. What a wonderous desert. What a vast and desolate place. What a land of contrasts and change. What a varied landscape wrought of desolation. What a spiritually, forbidding place. What a wrecker of lives and dreams. What a place of dreams. What an eternally humbling place.
I have travelled almost 5,000 kms from the southern beginning of the Atacama, at Santiago, Chile, to Nazca, Peru. I have travelled, on a previous journey, the northern 3,000 +/- kms from the Ecuador/Peruvian border to Nazca, although this is not labelled Atacama. I do not believe, there exists on earth, an equivalent distance of total desolation and deprivation as can be claimed by this entire area.
It is wonderful...it is spiritual...it is indeed a treat to have shared this special place from its northern terminus to its southern end. I have criss-crossed it east to west and north to south. I have seen only a little of the destruction it can wreak. I have witnessed only a little of its beauty. I have experienced only a little of the desolation it lays claim to. But, I have crossed it and challenged it and shared some of its special, hidden places. The ATACAMA.
Just south of Nazca at Cementerio de Chauchilla, lies a vast burial ground utilized by the Nazca culture. Plundered by grave robbers and thieves these ancient graves were torn asunder...the bones of the deceased cast upon the desert like rain upon the ocean. Their peaceful and placid slumber disturbed for evermore. The INC (National Peruvian Archaeological Society) has now taken over the area, stopped the plunder and re-consolidated the bones and the graves. About a dozen graves remain open, protected by shelters, as a testimony to what once had been created by a remarkable, ancient culture. A culture so advanced that the quality of its textiles surpassed not only all contemporaries but those of succeeding future generations, to this date.
The desert had spoiled me. With ambients reaching into the low 30s C on a regular basis life was easy.
Riding had been hot at times, my riding gear keeping me in the moist zone. Water consumption was high in the 3 liter plus per day range. I looked forward to the mountains with trepadation, knowing they could be cold and wet.
The road from Nazca to Abancay was paved. Maybe it had been for years, but it was a road untraveled. The foothills passed quickly and soon I was in the montane zone. Sand gave way to grass, cactus persisted but reluctantly. A few trees were evident. Cultivated mountain sides became common place. Too steep for machinery they were hand tilled. Actually most of highland Peru operated that way. Tilling, sowing, reaping and threshing were still all manual operations.
The road wended it's way upwards...ever upwards...2,000 ft, 3,000, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8000, 9, 10, 11, 12 and finally 13,000 feet. My first low, high mountain pass peaked out at 13,600 feet. I was in the land of the Višuna. Groups of višuna abounded...my first encounter with this protected species.
The višuna had been protected throughout the Inca civilizaton and then brought to the edge of extinction by the Spanish. During Inca times the ultra-fine fleece from its breast was used for the finest of textiles to be worn only by the Inca himself. Višuna were not killed by the Inca. They were captured, their fleece removed and then released, to be harvested again. Any commoner caught killing a višuna suffered the same fate...the death sentence...no ifs, ands or buts. This was Imperial property.
Suddenly I was surrounded with greenery. So used to shades of brown, grey, white and black my eyes soaked up this forgotten wonder. Wildflowers abounded. I was astounded at the opulence. The land was covered in color... reds, greens, yellows, whites and purples. The wet season had lingered this year. It had merged into the dry season prolonging the wet and shortening the dry. Nature had responded in kind. The precipitation bonus had energized the flowers to bloom one more time. I had not expected this. It was truly a visual bonus.
I criss-crossed my tires, touching center only when I rolled from left to right. The edges moaned in protest. The rubber polished roads proved to be slick, providing only marginal gripping power. Round and round I twirled, left and right, in and out, 90, 180, 270 degree turns...more than a thousand. My arms ached from throwing the bike left and right. Debris sometimes littered the road adding an extra level of caution. Upwards, upwards, ever upwards I climbed. At 13,600 ft there was a brief pause and then a descent into steep valley. Down and down I whirled, my arms still aching...and then my first rain. It started gently allowing me time to dress up. Then it steadied and finally became a downpour.
The temperature dropped from the 20sC to the low teens. The land was lush and verdant. Onwards I pushed, climbing out of the valley and through another pass at 13,800 ft. A pause for lunch fortified the body. There was still a long ways to go...an unknown zone. The road had not straightened all day...2nd and 3rd gear were the norm, 4th and 5th the exception. Going was slow and there was no hope of a respite. My desination was only 250 kms away, but in reality it was 5 hours of hard riding.
I climbed into the last pass...the formidable pass...a pass of unkown elevation, duration and danger. The corners were tighter, the fog frequent, the temperature dropping steadily, the sun settling lower on the horizon, the verdant zone now well behind me. At 15,300 feet I reached the apex...but there I stayed...caught like a deer in the headlights. 8C and falling. I stopped to suit up.
Then the rains came. Slow for only a moment and then a veritable downpour. Purple and blue stabs of light jagged to the ground. The impending thunderous crash that followed surely woke the dead. It sent shivers down my spine. I looked around me. Truely, I was the tallest object on this vast, lifeless plain...the plain of doom. I could not stay here. I had to keep moving. There was no shelter. No place of refuge. No place to hide.
The rain froze into hail pellets and soon the road was covered in hail, several inches deep. I slowed to first gear, my feet ready to shoot out like outriggers should I move into a skid. Braverly overcame fear and I shifted into second and then third...then back to second. The intensity of the hail increased, the sun was obscured by the heavy cloud mass. Lightning stabbed towards me...the temperature dropped to 0C.
Then the road dropped off of the plateau...only a thousand feet or so, but enough to move back into the rain zone. I shifted up. The road sign indicated 150 kms to Abancay. The clock approached 5 PM. Sunset was just after 6 PM. There was no way I could make it now. If I arrived at all I would arrive after dark. These mountain roads require concentration in the daytime never mind at night. I pushed onwards.
I passed through a few hovel towns, fit only for those who have spent their lives in this harsh, unforgiving environment. I could not intrude. A rise in the road brought me back into the hail zone. It was either heavy rain or hail. Not much to choose from...the sky grew darker. I was warm and dry but hypothermia moves in slowly and catches you off guard. The rain still poured. I could not stop and strip down to add another layer here. I had to take my chances.
The road turned to the north and I spotted a patch of blue sky on the horizon. My spirits picked up. I knew then I could get out of this storm. I looked at my GPS. My route took me north. I was pointing towards a dry zone, but how far away was it?
At sunset I crossed the line. Like a mark in the sand, I crossed from the wet zone to the dry zone. I dropped off of the altiplano into a deep river valley. Soon I saw people out walking...enjoying the evening. The temperature rose to 14C. The altimeter showed a loss of 6,500 feet, down to 8,000. I had ridden out of the storm. Night moved in quickly. I was still 100 kms from Abancay with no desire to ride the canyon in the night.
I looked for a place to bed down and there it was. An old adobe ruin to block prying eyes, a river to lull me to sleep. As I dismounted an involuntary shudder wracked my body. My teeth rattled and my body shook. The first signs of a deep chill. I had beat it, but just barely. After a few minutes the chill had been purged. I unpacked and set up camp before the blackness of night descended upon me. Surrounded by mountains, a brilliant sky and a warm, dry evening I crawled into an even warmer sleeping bag and struggled to find sleep. I couldn't for many hours.
You can eat a three course meal at street level in Peru for less than $2. You can eat at sidewalk level for less than $4. You can eat at tourist level for much more, the choice is yours. Entree, soup, main course, coffee and desert (pie) for $3.50. It works for me and that is just for lunch. A lunch meal like that can allow you to skip dinner.
The sun peered into the valley slit and put a bright shine on the new day. A few miles down the road I came into a small town. I hadn┤t eaten since early afternoon so it was time for some food.
Fried eggs, bread and some tea matte con cocoa sounded good. It turned out to be a fried egg sandwich. That was a pleasant surprise. I was nicely settled into my breakfast when a Tour-Bus pulled up and disgorged its contents. Turns out everyone gets out here for a pee, a poke, a stretch and a bite to eat. This was a bus from Lima to Cuzco...20 hours...for about $25. Sounds like a good deal to me.
The third person into the restaurant was a middle aged lady. She scanned the empty tables, discarded them in a glance and settled in at mine. OK, with me lady! What┤s on your mind? We chatted for the duration of the bus stop. Her sister joined us a few minutes later. What a pleasant start to the day. The bus tooted its horn, they hurried to gather up their goods and then decided they wanted a picture of the three of us beside the bike. The bus started to roll as we posed for the camera. Snap! Run! Goodbye! See you in Cusco...maybe.
Down the road the grain harvest was in progress. I rounded the corner to find the road covered with a two foot thick mass of maize, a heavy headed grain not unlike wheat but with a much larger head. I braked hard and swerved to the right to avoid what looked like a very slippery encounter.
Once passed I turned around and rode back to look at the operation. What the heck I figured. Why not help them out. I bounced across the grain stalks as the farmers waved and cheered in delight. I turned around again to talk to them. They responded in turn by offering to share a cup of 'chicha' with me. I had never had this weird, ancient, partly fermented Quechua drink before...and probably won't again. My stomach thought so too and rumbled in protest the rest of the day.
All day I worked the sides of the tires. These mountain roads in Peru provide some of the absolute best riding and scenery in the world. This was no exception. I poked along enjoying the sights, working the gears and never getting much beyond 3rd. Traffic was minimal even as I approached Cuzco. Then in the last 40 km I dropped onto a broad valley and the road straightened out allowing a quicker pace.
Cuzco has become a big city, burgeoning with tourists, peddlars, thieves, beggars, businesses and the like. I worked my way to the Plaza de Armas and then settled with my foot on the curb, to peruse my Lonely Planet, Peru book for a place to stay. I had hardly opened the book when a man charged across the wide road, waving at me. This is not uncommon as in a lot of these cities businesses have spotters who hang out around the zocalo looking for a business opportunity.
This was not the case. Mario was from Argentina and a fellow biker. After introducing himself he offered to take me to the place he was staying, only one block off of the zocalo and only $10 a night with secure parking. It was worth a look. Ten minutes later I was checked in and enjoying a matte tea con cocoa.
Cuzco, the ancient Inca capital, the Tahuantinsuyo, the Center of the Universe. It is now a city of balconies. After the Spanish destroyed most of the Inca architecture they built upon the stone foundations and erected their own buildings in a fashion they had become accustomed to.
The trouble with Cuzco is there are too many tourists. Tourists bring out the worst in people. The city is literally crawling with street urchins, beggars, peddlars and any other word that can be used to describe these predators. They detract from the whole experience as one cannot even enjoy a stroll without having to beat off a dozen or more of these urchins. A few adds to the experience...one for every tourist is distracting.
They are persistent beyond stupidity. You can get your shoes shined, get up and walk three steps and another shoeshine boy is hounding you for a shoe shine. Go figure!
My impressions of Cusco were not as favorable as the first time I visited.
It was the street urchins and the peddlars that probably made a difference. Plus, it was not Inti Rami so the festive spirit was without. I weighed it all carefully and decided against a return visit to Machu Picchu.
My first visit to Machu Picchu was one of awe and wonderment. "The Vertical World of Machu Picchu" was how I described it then. I did not want to tamper with that pristine memory. I did not want to temper my rememberances. I did not visit Machu Picchu.
I travelled into the Sacred Valley and covered it's entire length. I visited Pisac, that ancient Inca stronghold and Ollantaytambo, the fortress, which was probably not how the Incas conceived it, but rather, as yet another religious retreat.
The Sacred Valley...how appropriately named. About two thousand feet lower in elevation than Cusco it had nourished a Nation, and nurtured a culture. It had provided the fodder of expansionism.
The Inca Empire moved north and south, east and west from Cusco. Over the course of the next 150 years they would conquer and subdue all civilizations from Ecuador in the North to Chile in the South, from the Pacific in the West to the Amazon in the East.
They controlled their Empire carefully, monitoring everything made and sold, grown and harvested. The ancient Quipu was their abaccus...their record. They terraced the mountains and stored their food surpluses for times of shortage. Everyone had a job. Everyone had a purpose. Everyone was accountable.
I carried an illness with me from Cusco or perhaps it had been brewing prior to that...maybe the Chicha? I retired early to bed, in Ollantaytambo and shared the same spot the next day. Even though my hostess plied me with Matte de Cocoa and a special Celery tea, it did little to mitigate the war that raged within. I had a good bout of dirrahea going...not uncontrollable...but totally liquid. I had involuntarily contributed my supper and then my breakfast the following day. I had hardly the energy to move about. I knew I had to get off of this mountain.
The morning of the third day I saddled up and rode out, heading south for Puno. There was no easy way off of this mountain. The road to Puno climbed steadily all day moving me from the Sacred Valley at 9,400 feet to 13,500 feet at Lake Titicaca. Over the course of the next 450 km my condition worsened. I hadn't eaten in two days but couldn't face the prospect of food even though I knew I would soon stop from lack of nutrients.
I tried a tiny sandwich for supper, in Puno, and it stayed. I was still passing full liquids for my third day. North American drugs would not touch this thing...and for good reason. It was altitude related and not necessarily food related. I felt so bad I could hardly move. On the fourth day I made a move. I went to the pharmacy on the corner and got an Andean prescription. It was more like a Wonder Drug.
Exactly 12 hours after I took my first pill, I suddenly felt like the weight of the world had been removed from my shoulders. My head cleared and I felt alive once again. I passed my first dry gas minutes later. I was enjoying getting re-acquainted with my dual purpose orifice after such a long abstinence. Then suddenly it mis-fired...back to the drawing board.
They were re-tiling the hallway outside of my room, in Puno. The first day they laid two maybe three tiles. The next day maybe one or two more. They would be finished sometime. Then, there was a commotion outside my door...voices were raised, criticisms were passed. The following day the hallway was almost completed. The work was nicely executed, just like the Inca Chiefs the day Pizarro rode into town.
The Spaniards had beheaded a civilization. They cut it off at the knees. Without guidance and control the subjects lost their direction, lost their will to perform, lost their will to live. The terraces fell into disrepair, the fields and crops into ruin. The downward spiral continued for centuries...the Spanish plunder was complete... it was beyond gold and silver. They had destroyed a civilization.
Today the Quechua and the Aymara, the oldest of the ancient civilizations, are worse off than they were 500 years ago, before the conquest. Then, their lives had purpose, their bellies had food, their families had shelter and self respect. Today, they are foreigners, strangers in their own land. They eke out a living, living hand to mouth, their daily bread most often rather than not, just out of reach. They have reduced themselves to building trinkets for tourists, trying to guess their whimsical fancy. They make only pennies on each sale, their desperation masked by the gold and glitter of the haggling crowd, as the tourist whittles away at their meager profits in a supersaturated market. Goddam Spanish.
At Lake Titicaca the Yavari lay resting placidly in the cold, clear waters of this the world┤s highest and largest fresh water lake. Originally commissioned in 1862, she and her sister ship were built in Wales, shipped around the Horn to Arica, Chile (then part of Peru) and hauled over the Andes to Lake Titicaca, by llama pack train, in 2,766 loads. The whole process took over six (6) years to complete.
Originally conceived as a coal fired, steam boiler to drive her engines, no one quite realized there was little or no coal in this part of the world. If there was no coal there was tons of dried llama dung. However, the heat release from a ton of llama dung was hardly equivalent to a ton of coal and the volume required was very considerably more. The ship was cut in two and 60 feet added to her berth to accomodate the extra fuel capacity. Her beam was maintained at 6 meters or roughly 20 feet.
On her initial firing, in this high elevation, oxygen starved environment it took eight (8) hours of continuous stoking to build a head of 100 psig steam. In the early 1900's her aging boilers were replaced with a four cylinder marine, diesel engine with which she remains fitted on this day. Nearing restoration, the plans are for her to ply the waters of Lake Titicaca one more time, before the end of the decade.
While breakfasting at the hostal, I met two lovely ladies from Denmark. One of them had been living with the indigenious on an island in the lake. Hers was a voluntary program to teach them English and enrich her own life in the process.
"There is one thing I have been wondering about these past few days", I said.
"Do they bathe?"
Her friend piped up, "Yes, I have been wondering about that too."
"They wash their faces once or twice a week."
"There are more parts to the body than the face", I prodded her.
"Well, maybe once or twice a year", came the answer.
"They walk barefoot all the time," the older one said. "They don┤t seem to feel the cold."
"My feet haven┤t been warm since I arrived," I said. "Even at night, in bed with my socks on, they don┤t warm up."
"And did you notice their toes," the older one continued.
"Not really," the younger one responded.
"They're huge, especially the big toe".
The younger one smiled. "Yes, you are right". "Since they are not encumbered with shoes, they use their toes all the time for gripping and climbing. That is why they are so well developed."
It was time to get off the mountain...but how? I asked around town. I had been told in Ilo that there was a paved road from Puno to the coast. The maps showed one leaving from Puno but nobody knew of it. I was perplexed. How could such an important development in their lives be such a secret. I asked taxi drivers, bus drivers, truck drivers and secretaries. A truck driver told me I had to go to the Bolivia border and then turn south...that was 200 km away. So much for the goddam maps. What good are they anyway if they just copy the same old shit and print a new date on the cover.
I resigned myself to the 200 km ride. If anyone should know it would be a truck driver. I stopped one more time, when halfway there and asked a bus driver whose bus said TACNA on the display.
"Does this bus go to Tacna?"
"Is the road paved?"
"I don┤t know?"
"Are you the driver?"
"How can you not know?"
"I don┤t know?"
"Which way do you go?"
"That way", pointing across the highway. It was a dirt road.
Fu_king idiot. One more to add to the Idiots I had met on this trip.
A crowd had gathered around the bike. A man stepped forward. "Where do you want to go?", he asked.
"Tacna," I said.
"Go to the the Bolivia border at Desaguadero. There is a paved road from there to Tacna. You can be there in five hours, maybe less." Finally, someone with conviction and an air or authority. "Is this a new road?" I asked. "No, it has been there for a few years". I thanked him kindly and was on my way.
At the Bolivian border, there was the road turning south to Tacna and well signed too. I fueled up and rode over the hill. The road went for a few miles to the west and then turned north. It doubled back almost half of the way to Puno, the way I had come, before it turned west again. There must be a good reason for this but I couldn┤t see it. My NEW "Rough Guide" roadmap showed virtually no roads in this sector. Just a few "tracks" going to unknown places. In the 21st century what could possibly be so difficult as drawing an existing road onto a new map?"
At 15,600 feet it had cooled to 8C again. It would not improve until I started to descend. Descent was a long time coming. I stayed up at elevation for over an hour. Finally the road turned west and the spiralling, tortuous descent began. Like a coiled serpent, not Quetzelquotal the Feathered Serpent (that is further north in Mexico) the road wound its way off of the mountain.
I stopped to check my tires partway through the descent. They were hot. The edges soft and sticky to the touch; the rubber shredded from the carcass in strips. They had sacrificed their lives to save mine...they were doing what I had paid for. There was nothing beyond the edge but the valley floor a thousand feet below.
Before I left Lake Titicaca I had a run-in with the Federales. I had not encountered these people before...only the Nacionale Police.
I saw them parked at the south end of the small town as I entered from the north.
However, just before I got to them I spotted an old mission one block off of the main road. I turned towards it and stopped to investigate. Poking around and taking a few pictures consumed time...15, maybe 20 minutes. I was in no hurry.
Done with my work I could see that the road in front of the mission connected with the main highway so naturally I followed it out. They were waiting for me...the Federales. These are the drug police. I am sure my actions aroused their suspicions. After all, who would waste time looking at an old abandoned mission.
They pulled me over. Paperwork please! Come into the office...their interrogation room. Empty your pockets!
He made a move to open my jacket pocket. I pushed his hand away. I reached in and removed the contents and put them on the table. A couple of wrenches and some kleexex. Pretty harmless.
He pryed at the other pocket. I brushed his hand aside.
"Not before I put everything from the first pocket away", I said. I had played this game before. Empty everything at once and you only get half of it back. There were four of them and only one of me.
I emptied the second pocket. They had trouble with my change purse. I snapped it open to reveal the contents. "That is a ladies purse," he said.
"So what! it works for me". These guys were beginning to piss me off.
"What about inside your jacket?"
I revealed my passport case in which I carried a few Peruvian Soles and some paperwork.
They looked in my sunglass case which contained my glasses, my driver's license and a charge card.
Satisfied they let me go. A block away the Nationale Police were parked. They waved merrily to me as I went by, as was the norm.
Earlier that day I had passed the Nacionale Police as they ambled slowly down the road. They weren't breaking any speed limits but neither was I. I sped by. I had barely merged back into the lane when they turned the siren on full and flipped on their flashing lights. I'm sure the bike twitched a foot as a startled reaction to their game. I throttled up and watched them disappear in the mirror, as I gave them a big Salute.
Coming into Cusco, a few days earlier the Nacionale Police had caught me passing a bus on a mountain road, in a curve, with a double solid yellow line. I thought I had a ticket for sure, but they waved me on. Damn, double amarillo lines.
Riding that coiled serpent for the better part of a day could only bring back some fond memories of 1999 when I visited here last.
I had organized, planned and scheduled that trip much as I had done this one. I fetched two (2) unknowns off of the Internet and we met face to face for the first time in McAllen, Texas.
Like three (3) Misfits from Hell we headed south through the Americas, partying as we went.
I was young enough to keep up, Andres was dumb enough to try and Peter set the pace.
Our quest for that perfect bottle of rum took us to Ecuador where we found we could purchase a quart for $1.00. Thus we aptly earned the well deserved moniker "The Rum Riders." It took us a month to find the border so we could escape.
While roaring across Argentina one day, at 80 mph Peter heard a strange noise coming from his engine. "I must remember to ask Santa about that", he remarked to himself...he didn't.
With the starter firmly engaged to the flywheel he was grinding off precious teeth as he went. The heat generated within the starter melted the magnets off of the casing and turned the entire rotating mass in to a molten gel which solidified once it cooled. A new alloy was created that day called Copperminium which Phelps Dodge has since patented...TOO MUCH RUM. Peter still drinks...I don't.
We were like the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. The Father has returned to handshake the Andes, the Son is at home raising a family and the Ghost...well he is not Holy, we know that for sure. He lost his pecker somewhere in Argentina and is wandering about aimlessly trying to find it.
Peter had purchased an almost new R100GSPD for the trip. He fondly christened her the Virgin Queen. By the end of the trip she had been reduced to the Whore of Babylon. He still owns the Whore.
Somewhere in Central America, Andres decided he was going to cross back through two countries to try to find a woman who had given him a blow-job a few days back. He didn't know her name or the city she worked in but he was going back to find her...TOO MUCH RUM.
About every week or 10 days, Peter would go to the bank for more money. Returning with his cash in one hand and an ATM receipt in the other he would ask, "Santa, how are we doing on the budget?" "Spot on," I would reply. He never knew...TOO MUCH RUM.
While crossing the 16,500 ft pass at Huarez I was wretching from soroche, stomach cramps and the after effects of diarrhea. I lay on the road to gasp for a breath of fresh air in this cold, oxygen starved enviorment. A moment later Peter was nudging me with his boot..."Come on Santa, we've got work to do. Let's get rolling."
THOSE WERE THE DAYS MY FRIENDS...THOSE WERE THE DAYS!
As I came off of the mountain, the hot desert air rushed up to greet me. The afternoon chill was purged from my bones as the temperature climbed into the high 20s. I was home!
I returned to Chile the next day...to Arica, where I had been almost one month before. There was only one good reason to be here...to ride one more mountain pass before I put the Andes behind me, perhaps forever...the Paso Tambo Quemada. I would enter Bolivia via this pass.
This was a less spectacular pass than I had imagined. I had read much good about it, but I found it less appealing than some of the others. These are not up and over passes, but rather up and stay there passes. I clung to 15,400 ft for several hours. Gas, near the top was 900 CH pesos per liter...$2 per liter.
The Chilean and Bolivian border crossings were at this high, remote location. With minimal traffic I was processed through in record time. That was a good thing because I had decided to ride from Arica, Chile to La Paz, Bolivia in one day instead of two. The pass consumed far less of my time than I had imagined. It would be a 500 km day with two border crossings. I was stretching the limit.
I arrived in La Paz at sunset. I hate that. Darkness is bad, rush hour traffic is worse and in La Paz it is hell. In fact it was so bad I was able to dig out my book and find my hotel while waiting for something to happen.
La Paz is built in a giant bowl. The rim is 13,500 ft and the bottom of the bowl is about 11,800 ft. With one way in and no way out this place is worse than a zoo. I missed my turn and since the roads radiate like a spiders legs I was ready to give up hope of ever getting to my destination, but I had nowhere else to go. I turned back and stopped to confirm my location. To my surprise I was only 2 blocks from where I wanted to be. Ten minutes later, with the bike parked in the hotel lobby, I was checked in and ready to hit the streets.
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